Buying books: how do ratings influence you?

The other day there was a thread about ratings on a forum I belong to. Someone argued that a one-star review killed sales. Someone else argued the opposite. In combination with a survey reported by Dean Wesley Smith on what influences book buyers, people wondered how much rating influences someone to buy a book.

I only ever once bought a book solely based on a review. It was not a good review by any stretch of the imagination. But the review made me so curious about the supposedly bad ending that I wanted to see for myself. I read the book and saw where the reviewer came from. The ending was unusual, in that one of the characters made a decision that would not have been mine (neither would it have been the reviewer’s, I guess).

The funny thing is–because of that very negative review, I bought the book, and to date, I still remember the book, whereas I’ve forgotten countless other books I read around the same time. I spoke about the book at home, and my daughters read it as well.

So, yeah, one bad review, and three reads. Mostly, I don’t care about ratings at all. Sometimes I read the reviews. What I’m looking for in reviews is more setting and subject matter related comments, and much less what the reviewer thought about them. I find the bad reviews a lot more interesting than the good ones.

Do bad reviews stop you picking up a book?

I did some very unscientific research. I looked at the Amazon reviews of a number of my favourite big-name authors. By far the majority of books averaged 3-3.5 stars, sometimes over hundreds of reviews, including many one-star reviews. Obviously, bad reviews do not stop buyers.

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13 comments on “Buying books: how do ratings influence you?

  1. I don’t think I have ever bought a book based on it’s review, good or bad, I buy them based on how they pique my interest if a new to me author. Or if it is an author I like I will most likely buy their work no matter the review.

    • I tend to check out subject matter when a reviewer mentions it. Certain catch phrases make me sit up and take notice. I’ll buy books where reviewers mention first contact, planetary exploration, interesting worldbuilding (SF or fantasy) or meticulous accurate research into the background of the story. Similarly, there are other catch phrases that make me pass on the book. I think reviews are a window into the story.

  2. I can’t remember if I have ever looked at star ratings with a view to purchasing. They mean things on different sites. Most people on Amazon seem to think that they indicate quality if you you look at the mouse overs they only indicate whether a reviewer liked it or not.

    I rely on podcasts and blog reviews from those with similar tastes to inform me.

  3. Th ratings do entice me to read the review – both good and bad, but in the end it is the actual review that can sway me. I also look at how literate the reviewer is. If it is badly written I put less store in it. It must be articulate and say something about the theme of the book.

  4. Hi Patty,

    I would say I side a lot with you when it comes to just how a negative or positive rating moves me to buy a book.

    In my countless hours of perusing the internet and teaching myself how to be a better writer, I have come across some pretty crazy things.

    One book that I came across on Amazon had about five fake reviews written by the author himself. How did the other reviewers come to this conclusion? Well the authors of these ratings and comments had the names of characters from this book.

    Supposedly, the author also admitted to being behind them on his blog or forums, now defunct.

    Regardless of the truth behind it, a rating means absolutely nothing to me when I chose a book to purchase. Instead, the quality of the review and content of the review makes me want to buy something.

    If a book has countless five star reviews with no substance to them, just hollow praise, then it might even scare me away from the book. I find myself reading reviews online and reading pitches about novels more and more now, rather than holding a rating for a grain of salt.

    • Fortunately, even if you intend to buy a paper book, you can usually find a sample of the ebook version online.

      Hollow five-star reviews, obviously by friends or other ‘supportive’ authors, is one of the reasons I think ratings are useless.

      In the same bit of anecdotal research I did, I found that self-publishined books usually have an average rating of 4.5-5 stars, simply for this reason. If I want to know about the book’s content, I just read the longer reviews, regardless of the rating. What the reviewer thought was a problem might appeal to me.

      • Exactly. I also look for samples of the work. Amazon has been fantastic in that regard – with a “look inside” feature for many.

        I’ve leaned towards purchasing books directly from brick and mortars because I could read a chapter or two before making a decision.

        This is how I notice a book…
        1. Cover/Title strike me, make me grab the book from the shelf
        2. I read the blurb/pitch on the back and am interested in the premise
        3. I go sit down in a reading area and read a chapter and decide if I like the style and am interested in where it is heading

        Buying indirectly, online can sometimes deprive me of that third step, and if It does, selling me a book becomes 90% more difficult.

  5. I will read reviews but if they’re unbalanced or ungrammatical, they’re not likely to sway me – even if they are well thought out, the writer often displays different taste in reading than myself so what works for them may not work for me, and the reverse. I am more swayed by the synopsis and the ‘first page test’. That is, if the first page draws me in, I’ll more than likely buy the book, whatever the ratings.

  6. A review will not convince me to buy a book, but it can convince me *not* to buy a book. When I’m going to take a chance on a book I’m unsure about, I’ll read reviews on it, and if I don’t like what I hear I’ll pass.

    For what it’s worth, I generally ignore the 4 or 5 star reviews. I read the 1 and 2 star reviews. I want to know why someone disliked the book, and by extension, why I might dislike it as well.

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